Getty Images

Kaz Grala ‘starting from scratch’ in Xfinity season debut

Leave a comment

Kaz Grala‘s offseason is finally over.

Six weeks after the rest of the NASCAR world got the 2019 season underway, Grala will join them this weekend in his first Xfinity Series start of year.

Thanks to sponsorship from Hot Scream – a brand of spicy ice cream – the 20-year-old will make the first of selected starts this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

It’s a far cry from where Grala found himself in November. When the Xfinity season ended in Miami, Grala made the last of 12 starts for Fury Race Cars, a team owned by his family that didn’t exist before May. After he lost his ride at JGL Racing due to a lack of sponsorship, Fury Race Cars came together in the three weeks between races.

In Fury Race Cars’ 12 races, Grala earned three top 10s, including a top five at Daytona in a 10-year-old car.

Now he’s “starting from scratch” in the best ride of his career.

“I feel as prepared as I possibly can be,” Grala told NBC Sports. “It’s hard driving part-time as I know from last year and competing against teams and drivers that are out here every single week and have been now for the past five races. They’re already warmed up there in the swing of things, they’ve got chemistry together. … That’s going to be a challenge.”

While he’s five races and 1,371 miles behind everyone else, Grala hasn’t been sitting on the couch waiting for today to arrive.

Though there has been sitting involved.

For the first time in his career Grala has access to a manufacturer simulator, plus RCR’s own simulator.

“Everyone had me a little bit concerned because they say you can get motion sickness from it. Luckily, no problems there for me,” Grala said. “We got to spend five hours in there. It felt to me like a five-hour test. Now the question’s going to be taking those things that we learned on the simulator and applying them in real life.”

Grala’s start will be the first for the No. 21 car this season, but it won’t be the first for the crew manning it. Headed by crew chief Justin Alexander, it’s the same crew that was behind Tyler Reddick‘s Daytona 500 entry in the No. 31 Cup car.

Grala shadowed the team during the Daytona weekend and other races in preparation for Texas.

“My engineer is extremely knowledgable and Justin of course, his experience speaks for himself,” Grala said of Alexander, who has 125 starts in Cup as a crew chief including wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. “His kind of range of knowledge about these cars and the way they work is even broader than just the Xfinity Series. He’s a really, really smart guy. I’m excited to see him work with me in real life at the race track rather than just in front of a screen.”

What does it all add up to?

While the final number of races he’ll run for RCR is “up in the air,” Grala hopes the decision to go with a limited schedule, combined with his experience in 2018, pays off in a similar way it has recently for Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain after their own limited starts in top equipment.

“I’m going to be having to figure out how to work with this team, but at least I kind of have a baseline for how to race these cars,” Grala said. “I think that’s been huge for me, but also just the difficulty of racing and competing for the finishes that we were last year with Fury. I’m back there racing with guys like Chastain, Ryan Sieg. These guys are some of the most underrated but best drivers in the series. …

“I feel like that helps make you a stronger driver. I think that we’ve seen that in the past with Ryan Preece and Ross himself. That really helps you gain a lot of race craft as a driver.”

When he hits the track today, he’ll have one token on his car representing his challenging rookie season. A Fury Race Cars logo will be located on his rear quarter panel to help promote their late model and modified manufacturing.

“This is kind of what they were hoping for, to be able to help me out in a pinch last year and have it work out to where I could end up with a bigger and better opportunity in the future,” Grala said. “This was an absolute perfect scenario for all involved.”

Cup playoff race at Talladega to resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
2 Comments

Let’s try this again.

Stage 1 was finished when rain came Sunday and prevented the Cup playoff race from continuing at Talladega Superspeedway. NBCSN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET today. The engines will be fired at 2:02 p.m.

Fifty-seven of 188 laps have been completed. The race will resume with stage 2. That stage will end at Lap 110.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and 0% chance of rain when the race resumes. There is no chance of rain in the afternoon.

William Byron, who won stage 1, was the leader when the race was stopped Sunday. He is followed by Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Matt Crafton has replaced Paul Menard in the No. 21 car and will take over driving duties when the race resumes.

After the race was stopped, Chevrolet summoned its drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors to a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Chevrolet has been adamant about its teams working together at Talladega and Daytona since the April race at Talladega. Chevrolet has won the past two races at those tracks with Elliott winning at Talladega in April and Justin Haley winning at Daytona in July.

Asked about Chevy’s tactics, Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports: “Every year the sport changes. It doesn’t matter if it’s how we race each other on track or how strategies play out. The sport is ever-evolving and you’ve got to be on your toes and ready to adjust or the sport is going to pass you up.”

 

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Getty Images
3 Comments

The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

2 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

Leave a comment

One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.